Prayer in al-Islam
Prayer in al-Islam
By Imam W. Deen Mohammed
With the Name Allah, The Merciful Benefactor, The Merciful Redeemer
"When My Servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close [to them]. I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me. Let them also, with a will, listen to My Call, and believe in Me: that they may walk in the right way.
Prayer is a tradition so strong in our natural urges that it will never be abolished as long as there are human beings on earth. The institution of prayer has been completely and perfectly established by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Other prophets had the practice of praying in the morning and at night, and some are recorded in the Bible as having prayed at midday. But Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), guided by Divine Inspiration, established prayer five times a day. Allah said to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):
"There are five prayers every day and night, O Muhammad; each (one) being credited as ten; so that makes them (equal to) fifty prayers (per day)".
"So [give] glory to Allah, when you reach evening time and when you rise in the morning. To Him be praise in the heavens and on earth; and in the late afternoon and when the day begins to decline."
When telling how prayer was prescribed for his followers, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, 'I asked Allah and He said:
"These are five prayers and they are equal to fifty [in reward] and what has been said will not be changed."
Prayer is the soul of all religions, and it has always formed an essential part of Al-Islam. It is the symbol of humble reverence before The Creator of the heavens, the earth and everything above and below. Where there is no prayer there can be no purification of the soul. It is the remedy for the ills which beset the heart, and which corrupt the mind and soul. It is the light which dispels the darkness of evil and sin.
Throughout Biblical history all of Allah's Prophets instituted the practice of offering prayers among their followers. In the Old Testament the Israelites are commanded:
"Seek you the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.
A similar commandment in the New Testament tells Christians:
"Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass." In the Holy Qur'an Allah says:
"And establish regular prayer, for prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds, and remembrance of Allah is the greatest [thing in life] without doubt. And Allah knows the [deeds] that you do."
In our prayers to Allah we ask Him to guide us to the right way of life, and to help us overcome all forms of corruption, shameful behavior and evil thoughts in order that He may bless us to be happy in this life and in the Hereafter. In another passage of the Holy Qur'an Allah tells us:
"And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night, for those things that are good remove those that are evil. Be that the word of remembrance to those who remember [their Lord]."
In offering our prayers we accept a posture of physical and mental humility before our Creator, The Guardian Evolver, Cherisher and Sustainer of all the worlds. We thank Him for the blessings He has bestowed upon us, and we ask His Forgiveness for our sins.
This expression of humility is painfully difficult for those of weak faith, but a joy and inspiration for those strong in faith. In communicating with Allah we must be ever mindful of our human limitations, and we must be conscious of the fact that we are but minute parts of His Infinite Creation. In our prayers we address only Allah. After saying, "Allah is the Greatest," we begin "With the Name Allah."
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that prayer is one of the five pillars upon which Al-Islam is raised. He is reported to have said:
"The superstructure of Al-Islam is raised on five [Pillars], i.e., the Oneness of Allah, the establishment of prayer, payment of zakat, the Fast of Ramadan, and Hajj [pilgrimage to Makkah]."
Just as a building loses its stability when one of its pillars falls, neglect of prayer will cause a person to lose his sense of morality and piety. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) felt so strongly about the institution of prayer in Al-Islam that in one of his last directives to his followers before his death, he emphasized the importance of safeguarding and promoting its observance. He said:
"Prayer, prayer, and [take care of] the females in your charge."
The Holy Qur'an says:
"Establish regular prayers, and be not among those who join gods with Allah."
That is, be not of the Polytheists for they are those who believe in a plurality of gods.
Prayer in Al-Islam is a beautiful exercise in meditation through which we are able to forge a direct link with Allah as a slave is to his master. Thus it is not only an obligation, but also a gift and a privilege. When we neglect the worship of Allah we lose contact with Him, and our sense of direction becomes faulty. We lose the spiritual guidance that comes from submission and obedience to Allah, and we become easy prey for the evil influences which confront us throughout our daily lives. The spiritual vacuum created within us when prayer is neglected is soon filled with materialistic greed, prejudice, envy, jealousy and other sins. A person who is so affected loses his sense of humility before Allah and views himself as the ultimate authority in his life. He loses his sense of compassion for others, and he regards the wonders of Allah's Creation only as they contribute to the fulfillment of his own selfish desires. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:
"And [ask] of the sinners, 'What led you into Hellfire?' They will say: 'We were not of those who prayed; nor were we of those who fed the indigent; but we used to talk vanities with vain talkers; and we used to deny the Day of Judgment."
Those who neglect or abstain from prayer sow the seeds of their own destruction in this world and in the Hereafter. History teaches us of great societies which lost their moral consciousness and humanity when they discontinued their observance of the worship of Allah. As a result of their neglect they lost the process which ultimately caused their moral, political and economic downfalls. By the same token we are able to see that sincere belief in Allah and the establishment of prayer were the major factors in the rise to greatness of many ancient nations. Allah says:
"Of the posterity of Adam, and of those whom We carried [in the Ark] with Noah, and of the posterity of Abraham and Israelof those whom We guided and chose, whenever the signs of [Allah] Most Gracious were rehearsed to them, they would fall down in prostrate adoration and in tears. But after them there followed a posterity who missed prayer and followed after lust, soon then will they face destruction."
Prayer can sometimes be painful, however there are times when the pleasure outweighs the pain. We also find in the Holy Qur'an:
"And truly it (prayer) is hard save for the humble-minded."
Prayer is a manifestation of faith, and an outer expression of an inner condition of belief and trust. It cleanses our inner being, giving us a fresh outlook on life and a release from self-deception and conceit.
It is up to each Muslim to find the strength necessary to carry out his or her obligatory duties. We cannot expect to strengthen ourselves when we neglect fundamental duties such as prayer. Most people who lose the strength to stand up to the evil influences of life have neglected their spiritual and moral makeup. If we maintain and pursue our spiritual development, we will have the necessary strength to resist evil forces and influences. We can only develop the strength we need by applying our spiritual and moral muscles. We cannot become strong believers if we fail to exercise these muscles.
Remember Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of his time. How do you think he became a great boxer, a superman in the ring? Do you think he did it by sitting down and waiting for his muscles to develop? No, that man had to run for miles. He had to sweat and train in the gym for many long hours. It is through this type of training and discipline that he and many others became great in their athletic professions.
In the religion of Al-Islam Allah has prescribed a way for us to train every muscle in our being, be it mental, moral or spiritual. You cannot expect to develop your moral and spiritual muscles without the discipline of prayer. Salvation in Al-Islam can be achieved only through willing and conscious obedience to the Commands of Allah.
A follower of Al-Islam views his religion as more than a set of guiding principles; for him it is a complete way of life. Being a Muslim involves serious study, strict discipline and true faith in Allah. Mere verbal adherence to the creed of Al-Islam is not enough. When one initially makes his declaration of faith in accepting Al-Islam, he makes the statement:
"I bear witness that there is no divine (god) except Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah."
This only signifies that he is announcing his candidacy for entering the service of Allah. Once a person makes his declaration he is placed under a strict code of discipline which is designed to prepare him to follow the Islamic way of life. Prayer, which has been prescribed five times daily, is one of the disciplines that helps in this training. Regular observance of prayer is excellent training for the obedient servant's of Allah because it is particularly difficult for those who are insincere in their allegiance to Al-Islam. It is a test of a Muslim's dedication to Allah and His Commandments.
Anyone who feels burdened by the obligation of prayer must realize that secular society has poisoned his nature which was created upright by Allah. If he is not willing to struggle to meet this obligation, he is not ready to submit himself entirely to the Will of Allah. Though he may read the Holy Qur'an daily, he will not find its true message. For those who willingly and enthusiastically follow the Commandments of Allah, the Holy Qur'an provides Divine Guidance. It says:
"This is the Book. In it is guidance sure, without doubt to those who fear Allah, who believe in the unseen, are steadfast in prayer and spend out of what We have provided for them."
Prayer is a form of remembrance of Allah, and anyone who prays all of the time while neglecting his other obligations is falling short of his duty as a Muslim.
The Holy Qur'an warns us:
"O you who believe! Fulfill [all] obligations."
If you are sincere in your prayers, and if you really give recognition to Allah, The Creator of the heavens and the earth, your prayer will help make you conscious of the things you are neglecting in your life. You may be neglecting your wife, your children, your community or whatever, but if you remember to turn to Allah in prayer with your heart and mind, He will help you to meet all of your obligations.
Prayer in Al-Islam is never to be neglected under any circumstances. It sometimes seems hard to be consistent in prayer when one is faced with exceptional hardships or challenges. However, it is exactly during these times that the spiritual insight and reassurance which come from prayer are most beneficial. During the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and up until this day, the followers of Al-Islam have been instructed to continue their observance of prayer without any exception, even when facing their enemies in battle.
In the Holy Qur'an Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is told:
"When you travel through the earth, there is no blame on you if you shorten your prayer if you fear the unbelievers may attack you, for the unbelievers are unto you open enemies. When you [O Prophet] are with them and stand to lead them in prayer, let one party of them stand up [in prayer] with you, taking their arms with them. When they finish their prostrations, let them take their position in the rear and let the other party come up which has not yet prayed. And let them pray with you taking all precautions, bearing arms. ..but when you are free from danger, establish regular prayers, for such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated
Regardless of the obstacles you may face, you have to fulfill your obligation to pray. If you are too weak physically to stand, offer your prayer in a sitting position. If you cannot sit, offer it in a lying position. And if you can't move your arms and legs, offer it by moving the eyes in conformance with what is ordered for us. Only the mentally helpless are excused from the required practices of prayer in Al-Islam.
Minors are not forced to pray, but they are expected to accept the invitation to prayer demonstrated in the exemplary conduct of their parents and older associates. Prayer becomes obligatory for every individual, male or female at the age of puberty.
When Allah and His Messenger says to do a thing, we are to do it. We are not to compromise our religion. We should not make excuses. If we are not living up to our obligatory prayers we must say sincerely:
"I am not one who prays five times a day, but I wish I were. I pray that Allah will one day ease the obstacles in my life so it will be less difficult for me to pray five times a day."
It hurts a believer to know he is not doing all that Allah asks of him. Never give in to wrong.
Some people ask, "Why should we pray every day? Why not once a week when we go out on Friday, Saturday or Sunday to thank God?" Allah helps us every day, every minute, and every second of our lives. Why should we only take one day on the weekend to give praise and thanks to Him? We should thank Him every day. In respecting Allah by giving Him thanks regularly, we are showing the world that He is the most important force in our lives. We lose no dignity by prostrating ourselves in prayer to Allah. Instead we are honored because it adds to our virtues. The Holy Qur'an says:
"Successful indeed are the Believers who are humble in their prayers."
You should never push prayer out of your mind and say, "Oh, this is America, not an Islamic society." That is the first crack in your building. Very soon it will crumble and fall. If you are not in the position to offer your prayers at the designated times, admit that you are failing to offer them. We should never put so much importance on our physical selves that we forget the importance of the spiritual lives which dwell within us, and which influence the shapes of our external lives.
Without prayer we are neglecting our inner selves (cores). There is no physical death worse than moral, mental and spiritual death. That is pure torment; it is hell. Destructive thoughts and ideas will prove more harmful to us than physical dangers. Many people have wanted to die to get away from their mental and spiritual torments.
When praying, the Muslim makes obligatory physical movements which signify obedience and submission to Allah, but these physical movements are not ends in themselves. We must be growing spiritual also. In disciplining our physical bodies, our spiritual drive and awareness become stronger. When the mind becomes more obedient to Allah, the burden on both the body and the spirit is lessened. We must pray to Allah, not only out of gratitude and appreciation for our physical lives, but also out of fear of losing things which are even more precious; our relationship with Him, and the estimable character of our souls.
The obligations which Al-Islam places upon us benefit our entire society. When we perform acts of obedience to Allah, they help us to develop better relationships with our family. We will have better relationships with people of different races, and peace within our homes and on our jobs if we are truly obedient to Allah.
Our devotion will save us once we know that every individual act of duty, obligation or charitable sacrifice, although it may be directed specifically for the development and the good of the individual who carries out that devotion, ultimately benefits the whole society. What makes the fulfillment of our obligatory duties difficult is impurity and corruption within our minds and hearts.
The right behavior is formed once the right attitude is formed. The right attitude is formed after we stop seeking "self glorification." In Al-Islam we never say, "Glorified are you," or "Glorified am I." First we recognize that glory is not for us. It is for Allah alone. This makes us praise Him saying, "All praise is due to Allah." After praising Him properly, without the desire or inclination to promote or glorify ourselves, we give our devotion to Allah.
Everything in the heavens and the earth stands as a testimony to Allah's Glory, and shows that He alone is perfect and above mistakes and weaknesses. We are subject to make mistakes. We are subject to be weak under given circumstances. Allah alone is worthy of being praised with the perfect praise, and of being glorified and worshipped. This is the attitude we must develop in our hearts. When we develop this attitude, the blind animal urge in us will die out and we will see ourselves as Muslims.
We are to be worshippers of Allah, and we are not to ask for worship for ourselves. We are to be the servants of Allah. I am sure you are aware that there are respected religions in this world that encourage their worshippers to seek self-discipline for the sake of self-mastery and divine illumination.
A Muslim seeks self-discipline for one purpose, and one purpose only; to become obedient to Allah. Our desire is to please our Lord. We do not want to do things that displease Him, so we develop our moral, spiritual and intellectual muscles through the discipline of prayer and fasting. The Muslim is not seeking to become super. We are seeking obedience to Allah. That alone makes for a truly successful and productive life.
The human heart knows many different fears, but all of them should be dominated by the fear of Allah which He created within us. Our fears of physical danger, the unknown, and of everything else should be dominated by Allah. Fear which comes from devotion to our duty to Allah and from our desire never to displease Him is called Taqwa which is Arabic for God-consciousness.
Among the essential elements of Taqwa are firmness and enthusiastic patience in following the Will of Allah. Taqwa comes from a motivation to obey Allah, and Allah is its constant object. It signifies the fact that nothing should ever become so strong in our consciousness that it blocks our recognition of Allah's Power over us. Taqwa is the best fear because it is a conscious fear. A believer strives to make his life conform to what Allah has revealed because he is conscious of what Allah wants him to do, and of what He wants him to avoid.
Taqwa also describes a form of love for Allah which prompts believers to exercise self-restraint, and to avoid involvement in any form of sin, wrongdoing or injustice. A believer is constantly aware of the presence of The Omniscient, The All-Powerful God. He feels shame if he does anything which Allah disapproves because his love for Allah is the strongest force in his life. Taqwa is an attitude which indicates our awakened humanity and our submission to the Will of Allah, as well as our recognition of the fact that we are ultimately accountable to Him.
Taqwa includes an anticipation of Judgment and an awareness that we must answer for all the wrong we do. Many people go through their entire lives without ever thinking about the end consequences of their deeds and actions. But Al-Islam teaches us that although a wrongdoer may not be immediately punished for his actions, he can never escape Allah's Judgment. Allah will not allow injustice to go unchecked. He won't allow us to live deceitful lives without having to answer one day for the evil we commit.
Allah is not going to make life pleasant for us until we first take the right disposition in our hearts. When I confess the sins of my life before Allah only, and pour out the sentiments of my heart to Him in prayer, I have a chance to receive His Forgiveness and His Help. But as long as I deny my shortcomings and try to present myself as something I am not, I have no chance with Allah. I have to first be truthful to Allah before He will come to my aid. Making one's daily prayers is said to be a difficult thing, except for those who have fear of displeasing Allah; those who feel embarrassment for doing wrong.
If a believer fails to pray, he feels that he is falling short of the excellence which Allah requires of him. If he gives nothing to charity to help others, he feels that somewhere a very important area is unattended, and that he is not living up to that which pleases Allah. Constantly fulfilling the obligation of prayer is a hard thing for some. What will make it easy is turning to Allah with sincere humility and giving complete devotion to Him. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked the question:
"What is Ihsan?" he responded, "That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, and in case you fail to see Him, then observe prayer (with this idea in your mind) that (at least) He is seeing you."
This does not imply that we could actually observe Allah, but we should conduct ourselves as though we are seeing Him because we know that He sees us. We should always be aware that Allah sees everything we do. He is aware of everything that is taking place, even our innermost thoughts, including those that don't register on our conscious minds.
When we believe that Allah sees us, we should translate that belief into action. We must never give in to negligence. If we ever find ourselves forgetting that Allah is ever present, we must immediately correct ourselves. In the Holy Qur'an, Allah says: "Those who fear Allah, when a thought of evil from Satan assaults them, bring Allah to remembrance, when lo! they see [aright]."